– Foreign Affairs Ministry said group claimed it doing border research
By Leonard Gildarie
The army has mounted a probe to determine whether its soldiers, guarding a border base at Eteringbang, erred in allowing a group of Venezuelans, to enter Guyana in somewhat strange circumstances on August 31.
The group, called “My Map of Venezuela also Includes Our Essequibo”,
reportedly came to “carry out a civil exercise of sovereignty”. The group was accompanied by armed members of the Venezuela Army, according to El Universal, a newspaper in that neighbouring Spanish-speaking country yesterday. While there was no explanation what exactly the exercise involved, online Wikipedia explains that sovereignty is the quality of having independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory.
The visit is now being seen as an act of provocation by certain fringe groups in Venezuela to embarrass President Nicolas Maduro who came to visit Guyana on state business the same day.
Venezuela is claiming a large swath of Essequibo. The issue has been rearing its head from time to time but took backseat under the administration of Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chavez.
Chavez, who died earlier this year, had agreed to have the matter settled by a UN Good Office process. Jamaican-born Norman Girvan, an expert of international
relations, was appointed back in 2010 to see the process through.
During his visit on August 31, both Maduro and President Donald Ramotar expressed commitments to the Good Officer process.
However, back in Venezuela, the issue has been rumbling in the media with former army officials and members of the Opposition calling for it to become one of priority for the Maduro administration.
According to Venezuela’s El Universal online newspaper yesterday, “On August 31, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was paying an official visit to Georgetown, Guyana to offer economic and social support to that country, 45 Venezuelans went on a mission crossing the Cuyaní River and into the Guyana-Venezuela disputed area accompanied by officers of the Venezuelan Army.”
Law student, Ricardo de Toma, a member of the organization, is quoted by El Universal as saying that “We came here to carry out a civil exercise of sovereignty, but we do not understand what was Nicolás Maduro doing there (in Guyana).”
Also there were administrator Jorge Luis Fuguett, and internationalist Rajihv Morillo.
De Toma was critical of his President’s visit, saying that in spite of the mining
projects Guyana has been developing in the Essequibo disputed area, and the granting of oil concessions in front of the Venezuelan Atlantic front by Guyana, Maduro’s bilateral was to spread an “ideological model.”
El Universal published a number of photos of the visit by the group. One of them showed a Guyanese flag on a property at Eteringbang, where the group landed. GDF also has a base at that border area.
Another photo indicated a soldier donned in what appeared to be GDF clothing in conversation with an armed member of the Venezuelan army. Yet a third photo was of a GDF official being recorded on camera and speaking to members of the group.
However, it is the fourth photo which seems worrying and which GDF officials said it will investigate. According to the photo, persons wearing what appeared to be Venezuelan army outfits and armed with guns were awaiting members of the group to board a boat. There was another vessel nearby. El Universal said that the photo depicted “part of the group of Venezuelans who went on an expedition to the Essequibo, guarded by the Venezuelan army (Handout photo).”
Yesterday, a senior official of the GDF said that a report of the incident has been compiled for the attention of the Defence Board.
The senior army official, who asked not to be named, admitted that the visit by the Venezuelan group on the same day that President Maduro was here was a highly unusual one. He also said that officials in the area turned back the armed Venezuela ranks but allowed the rest of the group in. Cross border visits between the two countries are not unusual with quite a number of Venezuelans working in the goldfields in Essequibo.
However, when it was pointed out that El Universal photo and story is claiming that the Venezuela soldiers entered Guyana’s territory and proceeded on an expedition, the army official said it would indeed be a serious matter if it was so.
GDF would now be proceeding to investigate the matter further.
Yesterday also, Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said that from initial information, there was indeed a group who claimed they were doing research.
“The preliminary information available to me indicates that a group of Venezuelans came to Guyana via Eteringbang. They indicated that they were students and sought permission from the relevant Guyanese authorities to enter Guyana. That permission was given. They further indicated that they were doing a research in relation to the border.”
The Minister also said that she was advised that there were “security officers” with the group.
“I do not have any report of any “military exercise” and will not speculate. I await a full report on the matter.”
During his visit here, President Maduro said that the territorial dispute between the two neighbours have been fostered by “oligarchs” of his country. He recommitted to strengthening ties between both countries.
Venezuela has been growing as an important trading partner to Guyana, especially with the lucrative oil-for-rice deal under the PetroCaribe arrangement.
Venezuela had claimed more than half of the territory of Guyana at the time of the Latin American wars of independence, a dispute that was settled by arbitration in 1899 after the Venezuela Crisis of 1895.
In 1962, Venezuela declared that it would no longer abide by the arbitration decision, which ceded mineral-rich territory in the Orinoco basin to Guyana. The disputed area is called Guayana Esequiba by Venezuela. A border commission was set up in 1966 with representatives from Guyana, Venezuela and Great Britain, but failed to reach agreement. Venezuela vetoed Guyana’s bid to become a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1967. In 1969 Venezuela backed an abortive uprising in the disputed area.
Under intense diplomatic pressure, Venezuela agreed in 1970 via the Protocol of Port of Spain, to a 12-year moratorium on the dispute. Venezuela refused to renew the protocol. However, with changes to the governments of both countries relations improved, to the extent that in 1990 Venezuela sponsored Guyana’s bid for OAS membership in 1990.
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